What Sustainability Means To Me Today

I knew almost nothing about sustainability before coming to college. When someone mentioned sustainability I always thought of the three Rs I learned in elementary school: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Recently I’ve learned that sustainability is so much more than this. Technically, sustainability is the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. In my personal opinion, sustainability is people working together with our environment to solve wicked problems. A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. Wicked problems are different from tame problems because tame problems have definite solutions. Wicked problems are made up of six characteristics: vague problem definitions, variable solutions, solutions have no endpoint, solutions pose irreversible effects, solutions require unique approaches, and urgent. The first characteristic is vague problem definitions which means it is difficult to precisely pinpoint what the problem is because it may be framed differently among the multiple and diverse stakeholders that are involved. The second characteristic is variable solutions which means it is difficult to precisely identify one definite solution to the problem that would work everywhere and for everyone. The third characteristic is solutions have no endpoint which means it is difficult to identify when the end of a problem could be anticipated because the endpoint is never in sight. The fourth characteristic is solutions pose irreversible effects which means a wicked problem is considered irreversible because the effectiveness of a solution cannot be verified prior to implementation. The fifth characteristic is solutions require unique approaches which means the same solution to the problem will not work effectively in all places and for all people. The last characteristic is urgent, which means a failure to act will result in permanent harm to human and natural systems. 

Keeping all of these characteristics in mind, we must remember that our actions today largely affect the well-being of future generations. One excellent example of intergenerational responsibility is the story of Easter Island. In the 5th century people traveled to Easter Island by boat and brought limited supplies to live off of. The island is only 150 sq. miles and their peak populations was 7,000 people. Their downfall was caused by fighting, beliefs/values and limited resources. Today, we are acting like they did: we take and take without giving back. To solve this we need to find a balance between our wants, needs, and environment. Something that really explains this is the 11th Hour movie. This movie discusses how humans are ruining the Earth and our need to preserve it. It really opened my eyes to how much my every day activities can affect our environment and gave me pointers on how to do my part. 

Another important part of sustainability is self-narratives and paradigms. Self-narratives are the ways we as individuals see the world and how we impact it. Paradigms are are lens through which we perceive the world. One thing we did in class this semester that really inspired me to make a difference was the wildest thing activity; it opened my eyes to how many ideas people can come up with to solve problems when they put their minds together. 

Last, I recently took the carbon footprint test and my result was 50 tons CO2 per year. Even though my results were 32% better than the average household, it still shocked me how CO2 is emitted from my household. It made me realize how much improvement I could make on my carbon footprint each year and I have decided to research ways to reduce it!

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